Is your business innovation strategy circular or cyclical?

Circular road in a forest with child riding a scooter


In the post-war years, Winston Churchill was a keen advocate of a united Europe, insisting that the UK would benefit from being in the club, rather than an outside observer. Boris Johnson’s 2014 book The Churchill Factor applauds him for the stance that eventually took us in to the ‘European Experiment’.

Not long after that, Johnson led the campaign to leave Europe, and we all know how that turned out. Many believe that a second referendum now would give a different result. Who knows? What we can be sure of is that people change their minds and, as market research companies know very well, what people say and what they do aren’t always the same.

China used to be a secretive sort of place with little known about its leaders or their ambitions. Today the country holds a good chunk of world debt in its hands and is one of a very small number of manufacturing powerhouses that feeds the world market with consumable products. And yet, with Brexit now a reality and the GBP exchange rate as it is, Eastern manufacture is less viable. There is a significant trend towards companies setting up manufacture in the UK again.

Is the trend observable elsewhere too? It may be for different reasons, but America – once the exporter of everything we aspired to owning and the dream we all wanted – has begun putting up trade barriers to control imports. The ‘America First’ cry suggests a change in the supply chain that has become deeply established over the last thirty years.

Cyclical? Yes. Circular? Not yet.

Plastic is the friend of the supply chain. It protects, controls, insulates and encapsulates whatever it surrounds. It gets things from A to B with less waste and more efficiency: until we start to get critical of the full cost of using plastic in absolutely everything and realise that we can walk across the sea. Recent reports indicate that food waste figures are rising along with the use of plastic to protect it. For a while, the interested parties will lobby for no change and eventually, when the situation has become almost irretrievable, they’ll lose the argument and the whole way we ship and source will change. Can I be sure about that? Well, yes – to an extent, because that’s what happens.

How many times have you lived through a company divesting itself of interests only to start acquiring businesses soon afterwards? Governments are great at de-centralising and re-centralising. It happens so often that we are almost immune to the rationalising that goes on to justify the expense of the activity. Google becomes Alphabet, Smith and Wesson becomes AOB, the Department for Trade and Industry becomes the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

The words we choose to describe an activity change because somebody feels a need to redefine themselves. Maybe they’ve pivoted into a different area of interest, or want to distance themselves from something. In any event, it’s called ‘Communication’. It reflects an activity called Positioning and we used to call it all Marketing.

How is this useful in the realm of innovation?

Products usually meet their moment. Sooner or later an idea is right for the time. What is thought of as groundbreaking and trail-blazing today will lose its shine tomorrow. What has no value today will accrue some down the line. It’s why people have sheds full of screws and nails, and sewing boxes with scraps and off-cuts. It’s the human way. Inherently we value everything.

The point is that ideas shouldn’t be discarded. They should be kept in view with the reasons for their feasibility constantly displayed. As you work along your innovation strategy that sets out your trajectory along a timeline and a line of technical difficulty, these ideas will become more, or less, reasonable. Their pros will match a market need and their cons will push them down the priority list, but not off it – depending who is looking, when and from what perspective.

The message then is this: don’t discard an idea just because it looks stupid now. Its time will come and it will meet a need on your strategic plan when the time is right.

Of course, this assumes you have an innovation strategy guiding your business holistically, and that your team is used to the plan changing to meet the evolving needs of your market.

You don’t have one of those? No problem. Let’s start on that now.

Future thinking. Future proofing. It’s what we do. room44 innovates